Bernie Sanders wants his delegates to back Clinton. They’re not listening.


Bernie Sanders’ delegates are going to raise hell on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, his own wishes be damned.

“Change that’s worth a damn always comes from the bottom up, not from the top,” said Norman Solomon, coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, an unofficial group, at a news conference Monday morning. “He’s not running the show. He’s not running the social movement.”

That’s the message a coalition of Sanders delegates has sent on the first day of the convention, which began here Monday afternoon.

When presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the podium on Thursday, unless things change, she can expect cheers from most of the crowd, but stonewalling from a vocal minority.

Sanders delegates say they feel lied to by the party. Leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee showing favoritism to Clinton, they say, show that the party was fighting Sanders all along. And they’re irked that instead of acknowledging their voices by choosing a more progressive running mate, Clinton tacked to the center and chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Solomon told reporters Sunday and Monday that his network is planning at least three separate actions at the convention this week. It’s going to protest the speeches by Kaine and Clinton either by having delegates walk out, turn their backs or simply remain silent. And on Wednesday, the group is planning to protest the Kaine nomination by officially submitting an alternative candidate for vice president.

Solomon is aware that the vice presidential fight is symbolic.

“We understand Tim Kaine will be the vice president,” he said. But on Sunday, he told reporters that Sanders delegates would have preferred Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive firebrand, or Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Sanders, for his part, has encouraged his supporters to throw their weight behind Clinton. He has criticized Kaine in the days since his selection Friday, saying “his politics are not my politics,” but in a speech Monday to delegates, he earned boos by telling them to vote for Clinton and Kaine in order to defeat Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.

“Immediately, right now, we have got to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “And we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in. Trump is a bully and a demagogue. Trump has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign.”

But as much as it’s a protest against what Solomon has called the “corporate” Democratic establishment, the Bernie Delegates Network’s plans are an explicit rebuke to the idea that delegates need to line up behind whatever their candidate says. The message of Sanders’ campaign, say some delegates, is that citizens and activists should fight for the causes they believe in, and that the grass roots should determine the direction of movements, not leaders.

At the convention, many Sanders delegates wore shirts reading “Bernie for president” more than a month after he dropped out — a sight not seen at the Republican National Convention among backers of Sen. Ted Cruz, that party’s runner-up. Several Sanders supporters wore green felt pointed hats, meant to show that Sanders was the Robin Hood of the United States.

“My job is to make sure the wishes of my delegates are heard and that their opinions are heard,” said California delegate Karen Bernal. “They have never been a group to take marching orders. They’re extremely independently minded.”

Sanders delegates in their objection to the Kaine selection say he pulls Clinton further from their positions due to his support for free trade and a stance on unions they deem unfriendly. Warren or Brown, by contrast, could have been seen as a validation of Sanders’ platform.

And Sanders supporters in particular take umbrage at the leaked emails, which describe strategies to throw off Sanders’ candidacy. One email chain suggests that Sanders avoided acknowledging his Judaism and that perhaps the DNC could hurt his campaign by stressing that he doesn’t believe in God (he does).

“They have no clue about what Judaism means,” said Kansas delegate Andy Sandler, who is Jewish. “We’re not a monolithic bloc. They’re copying riffs from the Republicans. They love subterfuge.”

That’s why some Sanders delegates plan to vote against Clinton in November, whatever the consequences. Solomon, a Californian who will not vote for Clinton, said that Sanders supporters in solidly “blue” states that will almost certainly vote Democrat don’t need to worry about closing ranks around Clinton.

“This political process wasn’t impartial from the beginning,” said North Carolina delegate Vonnie Brown, 27. “The president box will be left unchecked come November.”

But other delegates oppose protests on the convention floor and say a vote for Clinton is necessary, either out of party loyalty or because the specter of Trump is so unthinkable to them. While Sanders will not be on the ballot, they believe that his principles and the movement he created will continue after this election.

“The Democrats, we have to come together,” said Connecticut delegate Beverley Brakeman. “People who are Bernie people who may not like Hillary need to figure it out. To me, [Trump] is a far scarier option.”

There are also concerns that protests on the floor will make the Democratic convention look like the Republican confab in Cleveland last week, where fissures showed throughout the week. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz spoke from the podium but did not endorse Trump, drawing boos. Cruz delegates also mounted an abortive protest from the convention floor to change the party rules so Trump would not be nominated.

“I think we should look better than the Republicans at their convention,” said delegate Denise Gladue, also from Connecticut. “We should respect Bernie’s decision to step down. He told us to vote for Hillary. We should vote for Hillary.”

Santorum’s Southern sweep mars Romney’s front-runner status


Rick Santorum swept two Southern states in Republican primaries, complicating Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner and all but burying Newt Gingrich’s chance for the nomination.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged from last place in polling as recently as December to become the conservative challenger to Romney, scored 33 percent of the vote in Mississippi and nearly 35 percent in Alabama. Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, finished second in both states, with 31 percent in MIssissippi and 29 percent in Alabama. Romney was third with 30 percent in Mississippi and 29 percent in Alabama.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant fourth in both races after barely campaigning in either state.

Romney, who during the campaign has tried to shuck his reputation as a moderate, had campaigned hard in a bid to prove he could win in conservative Southern states. The former Massachusetts governor is leading substantially in delegates, but his path to the nomination has been far from smooth as conservative candidates continue to mount substantive challenges.

Gingrich had suggested that if he failed to win in Mississippi and Alabama, his campaign was in trouble, predicated as it was on winning Southern states.

If Gingrich leaves the race, campaign watchers will look to see who his main backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, decides to support. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, twice salvaged Gingrich’s campaign with huge cash infusions; Gingrich and Adelson have been friends since the 1990s, in part because they share hard-line pro-Israel positions.

Romney has the backing of much of the Jewish Republican establishment, having attracted the bulk of Jewish donors and advisers. His appeal to Jews is based partly on his moderation and ability during his governance of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 to appeal to liberals and independents.

Additionally he and his wife, Ann, have referred in talks to Jewish groups to their Mormon faith, likening themselves to Jewish Republicans who have pushed for prominence in a party that still draws much of its support from a Protestant base.

Both Santorum and Romney have battered President Obama for what they depict as his hostility to Israel and his fecklessness on dealing with Iran, and both say that they will repeal much of the heath care reform package passed by Obama.

Some of Santorum’s domestic policies, including statements suggesting that a “Jesus guy” is most suitable for the presidency, have alarmed some Jewish groups.

Delegates walk out on Ahmadinejad’s U.N. speech


Delegates to a United Nations conference on nuclear proliferation walked out as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began his speech, which attacked the United States and Israel.

The delegates from the United States, Britain, France, Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands left the room at the start of the Iranian president’s address Monday.

Ahmadinejad used his opening speech at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference to parry attacks from an increasingly frustrated international community and to highlight what he deemed the hypocrisy of the United States and Israel.

Denying that his country seeks nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad told U.N. delegates that possessing such weapons is both “disgusting and shameful.”

“The United States has threatened to use nuclear weapons against other countries, including my country,” he said. “The Zionist regime, too, continuously threatens other Middle Eastern countries.”

Ahmadinejad also indicted the United Nations for its futility in establishing lasting security against nuclear arms, accusing theh world body of a double standard toward countries seeking nuclear energy and first-world nuclear powers.

Israel did not participate in the conference; Israel is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As the Iranian president delivered his speech, several protests took place outside the U.N.‘s New York headquarters.

One protest featured several members of the U.S. Congress, New York state senators and Jewish leaders gathered across the street from the U.N. building to denounce Ahmadinejad’s presence at the conference, which U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called a “sham.”

Most of the speakers, including Gillibrand, and New York Reps. Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerrold Nadler, focused on the need for tougher sanctions against Iran and expressed outrage at companies that do business with both the United States and Iran. In March, an investigation by The New York Times identified 74 companies that had dealings with the U.S. government and Iran.

“Today we renew our call to the companies and say when they do business with Iran, they fund its nuclear development,” Gillibrand said, adding that she is pressing for Senate hearings to investigate the issue.

Gillibrand later told reporters that she was confident that the Congress would reconcile its disagreements and approve stronger sanctions against Iran in the coming weeks.

L.A. brings its clout to AIPAC


David Yahudian endured embarrassment and fear growing up in Teheran. On walks in the market, his father ordered him to tuck the Magen David necklace inside his shirt and — even worse — called him by an alias, Ali, rather than by his overtly Jewish name. Following an Israel-Iran soccer match at the 1974 Asia Games, he saw fans burning Israeli flags in the parking lot.

Little in his native Iran has changed, said Yahudian, who was in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Last summer, the principal of a public high school summoned students to the courtyard for the anti-Israel commemoration known as Jerusalem Day. She taunted the school’s lone Jew to demonstrate animosity toward Israel by dousing a proffered Israeli flag in kerosene and lighting it. Intimidated in public, the boy, Yahudian’s 16-year-old nephew, Jacob, obeyed.

As much to exercise the freedoms he’s enjoyed in the United States for the past 30 years as to support Israel, Yahudian closed his shop in L.A.’s Jewelry District to attend this week’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington.

He was hardly alone. California reportedly brought 1,300 attendees, the largest delegation of any state. Southern Californians were noticeable throughout the corridors of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. They came with large synagogue groups, campus organizations, Jewish outreach centers and on their own — although, even then, many in the last group brought along children, grandchildren and friends.

On Sunday, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delivered the keynote speech at a session where Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) also spoke and where Milken Community High School senior Samson Schatz introduced the AIPAC board.

And, perhaps the best tribute of all: On Tuesday, traditionally the morning when attendees lobby their members of Congress, Capitol Hill instead came to the state group, with one forum at the convention center featuring Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, followed by another with Reps. Harman, Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena).

Indeed, a Monday morning session was titled, “Why L.A. Matters: The Intersections of Politics and Lobbying.”

AIPAC spokesman Josh Block called the large, visible L.A. contingent “a real testament to the strength and diversity of the pro-Israel community — to not only have so many activists from Southern California, but also to have Mayor Villaraigosa give such a stirring address.”

Attendees offered several explanations for the strong Los Angeles presence. Some felt a need to become activists against the threat of an imminently nuclear-capable Iran. Others pointed to the condemnation of the Israel Defense Forces’ war last winter to halt Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.

Even more lauded the recruitment efforts undertaken by rabbis representing a wide range of L.A. synagogues to bring people here. They spoke, too, of the role of synagogues’ Israel committees and of individual congregants in encouraging friends and relatives to attend. Some mentioned a desire to gauge the possible effect on the America-Israel relationship of the recent ascensions to power of President Barack Obama and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

All said that they’d come to learn, in-depth, about the array of Israel-related geo-political issues both in conference sessions and in informal discussions with fellow delegates.

Several participants said that coming to Washington helped equip them with the information and strategy needed to discuss the issues effectively back home. Schatz said he learned the importance of sticking with a uniform, pro-Israel message to jar supporters he knows who are apathetic and to respond to detractors.

For example, he said, “there should be no discussion” about the legitimacy of Iran’s gaining a nuclear capability. For another: using what he called the “retail engagement” method of calmly debating topics one-on-one rather than responding publicly to provocative protestors. Schatz said he learned that method here and at two previous AIPAC seminars he’s attended in Washington over the past year.

No one mentioned the recession as a factor in spurring their own participation or in keeping potential delegates away.

“L.A. is such a large Jewish community that we should be bringing such a large delegation,” Schatz said. “We have schools and leaders who are telling us to go, and we have the love for Israel. There’s a great number of involved people. The [Israeli] consul general is very involved.”

Large? How about the approximately 200 members of Sinai Temple, more than 100 each from Valley Beth Shalom and Stephen S. Wise Temple, and 40 each from Temple Beth Am and Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, which Yahudian attends?

The Jewish outreach group Aish L.A. brought 40 college students and young professionals here, the third straight year it has arranged a group.
Rabbi David Sorani, director of the graduate student division, said that Aish draws young people to Judaism by appealing to their interests and activities.

“When they get back from AIPAC, we try to get them involved in the Jewish community and Israel,” Sorani explained before an Aish L.A. side meeting here Monday.

“It’s been very successful because some students have gone to Israel rallies, gotten involved in other organizations and felt more proud to be associated with Israel. Students will feel that they can stand up to the Palestinians and wear an Israeli T-shirt…. When you have 7,000 people here, it makes you feel supported by the community at large.”

Yoni Dror, an 11th-grader at Mesivta Birkat Yitzchak, mentioned his rabbi’s custom, following Shacharit services, of informing students of overnight news from Israel, even updating the pre-election poll numbers.

Yoni believes he is the first from his school to attend the AIPAC conference. His father Brian, an accountant in the Fairfax District, also an AIPAC first-timer, said that he came, too, because an AIPAC speaker at Birkat Yitzchak had persuaded Yoni to travel to Washington.

No single issue on the pro-Israel agenda motivates Brian now: not the Iranian threat, terrorism or Hamas’ role in Palestinian politics. “I don’t think these issues are unique to Israel,” he said. “Every one of the issues facing Israel’s security is an issue facing, or that will face, the United States. I challenge anyone who feels that Iran or terrorism is a uniquely Israel problem to learn the facts and learn the issues.” 

Asked what he came to learn this week, Brian said, “It’s the political change in both countries — trying to get a handle on what we can do to help.” He added, “I feel that our time, effort and money are my contribution to ensuring Israel’s safety. Thank God the state exists [and] has a good economy; the only thing left is to ensure its security.”

Bringing young Angelenos to the AIPAC conference is an important way for Adam Milstein to support both Israel and Judaism. The Encino commercial real estate developer and his wife, Gila, natives of Haifa, assumed the cost of bringing 150 people here. That includes the Aish L.A. contingent along with groups from StandWithUs, Hillel, AIPAC’s regional group and the Jewish Awareness Movement.
The investment “is a no-brainer,” he said.

“I am a charitable person. My focus is the students. Now is the time to get them educated and involved. The kids are so energetic. They want to be active; they want to create…. I want them to bring their parents. [Parents] listen to the kids. Through the kids, we can reach more people,” Milstein said.

Milstein also has partnered with AIPAC to reach out to non-Jewish college student leaders. Each year since 2006, the couple has sent 50 such students on AIPAC’s Allied Campus Mission to Israel. “We’re getting excellent results from our investment,” he said. “As a businessman, every investment we make, we want to see the highest return. Every dollar we spend, we get huge results.”

The Milsteins’ involvement with AIPAC began modestly. They came to the conference five years ago because they wanted to spur college activism on Israel by their two elder daughters, Wendy and Leerone. Each girl brought a friend. At the 2004 conference’s banquet, Leerone sat next to another Los Angeles participant. The two hit it off. They were married in 2006.

Yahudian, the jeweler, also has his teenage daughter, Hannah, in mind for AIPAC. He was so impressed by his initial experience here that he registered at a kiosk for next year’s conference. He plans to bring his wife and daughter, too, and will raise the idea upon his return to Los Angeles.

Yahudian also is working on some Christian clients in Mississippi whom he knows from trade shows in New Orleans. Already, he said, a preacher there said that he hopes to bring 40 congregants on their first trip to Israel.

“I have to go home and promote [the conference] to family and friends, to see how many I can bring here,” he said. “As I tell my friends: If you love Israel, this [event] is the perfect place to be.”

Hillel Kuttler is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He can be reached at {encode=”hk@hillelthescribecommunications.com” title=”hk@hillelthescribecommunications.com”}.

Security vs Civil Liberty


As the United States intensifies its war against terrorism at home and abroad, the Jewish community may be poised to serve as a bridge between the Bush administration and some of its critics in the civil liberties community.

That was evident at last week’s Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) plenum in Washington, where delegates debated and ultimately passed a resolution expressing reservations about some of the policies instituted by the government to wage this new war.

Judging by the JCPA debate, Jews are deeply ambivalent — torn between admiration for an administration that is firm in its resolve to fight a terrorist threat its predecessors ignored, and the fear that some of its leaders are exploiting the crisis in an ideology-driven effort to roll back these protections.

That ambivalence is hardly surprising.

The enemy in this new war is shadowy, its next moves impossible to discern. Six months into the battle, it’s harder than ever to judge whether the new threat facing the nation justifies a significant recalibration of the balance between national security concerns and basic constitutional protections.

After a slow start, the Jewish community is beginning to wrestle with those issues, taking a balanced approach that could be useful to the nation in the days ahead.

The Bush administration may have good reasons for policies like detention without charges and military tribunals to try terror suspects, but they have done a woefully inadequate job of explaining them to the American people. Instead, they simply invoke national security as reason enough, and imply that critics are somehow soft on terrorism. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, in particular, sometimes gives the impression he is just settling old ideological scores, not responding rationally and responsibly to a new national threat.

But the civil liberties groups haven’t been any better at making their case. Al Qaeda has been hurt by the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, but its leaders are probably still alive, and its adherents are still active in up to 60 countries around the world.

Critics of administration anti-terror policies have failed to convince the public that they understand the new threat and the need to take serious action against it.

They offer few clues how they would remedy the deficiencies that left the nation wide open to attack on Sept. 11.

The Jewish community is poised to play a bridging role between the critics and the administration, although until now, the debate has been muted. Too many Jewish leaders, fearful of losing precious access to the administration, have been reluctant to utter anything that implies even mild criticism. Others, pleased that the administration seems ready to take on some of Israel’s enemies as part of this new war, have refused to say or do anything that might rock that boat.

The debate at the JCPA plenum may signal a new and more useful role for the Jewish community. Delegates debated a resolution, sponsored by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), that strikes a balance between praising the administration’s anti-terror efforts and pointing out specific areas of concern.

The resolution acknowledges that we live in a radically changed world, with new dangers that must be dealt with.

But, in language that never becomes strident, it makes it clear that new policies and procedures must be examined carefully, to make sure the need for them outweighs the costs regarding civil liberties.

To its credit, UAHC forced the Jewish community, through the JCPA umbrella, to start dealing with some of these difficult questions.

Despite the active, informed debate at JCPA, the Jewish community — with its long commitment to civil liberties, but also with an acute awareness of the challenge of fighting terrorism in this brave new world — is still groping in the dark. So is the rest of the nation. But that groping is much better than blind acceptance of the newest claim that national security requires sweeping, hard-to-reverse changes in traditional protections of American civil liberties.